This Monday night on Raw, it’s time for the 2011 WWE Draft, the annual swapping of stars between Raw and SmackDown—and once upon a time the yearly raping of WWECW—done to “shake things up.” I always love the Draft, and have in all its incarnations, from the mega lottery versions in 2002 and 2004, to the drawn out week-by-week process of 2005 and most especially through the template they’ve used since 2007 wherein representatives from the brands compete in matches with the winners earning picks for their side enacted immediately. For more history of the Draft stuff, I’d kindly direct you to IWantWrestling, where former WWE writer Dave Lagana has been doing some neat retrospective pieces.
Usually the Draft is a three hour long special and meticulously planned, but the buzz this time around is that it’s only the length of a typical episode of Raw and somewhat rushed, in both cases because WWE is scrambling to fill the void left on SmackDown with Edge’s abrupt retirement. Even without that element there are usually some obvious picks with this deal we can see coming a mile away coupled with a few “keep them guessing” wild cards (poor Jim Ross). I’m going to do my best Saturday evening quarterback routine and give 10 picks I think at least make sense whether they go down or not, but first…
A quick word on the brand extension: I am and always have been a fan. It seems like people have been calling for it to be abolished ever since it went into effect nearly a decade ago, but I don’t get that. Is WWE’s adherence to keeping it intact fairly flimsy with people jumping from show to show and appearing on both whenever? Sure, but who cares! Is it a bit strange that guys become crazy loyal to their show around Bragging Rights even if they were on the other brand a month earlier? Of course, but this is friggin’ wrestling—suspend your disbelief!
The fact is the necessity of having to maintain two mini-companies has led to the creation of more stars and work for more wrestlers. Have there been lean years that would have been less so had there been no brand extension? Yeah, for sure, but the tradeoff seems miniscule to me. Without the brand extension, guys like Eddie Guerrero would likely never have gotten a shot to play on the main event level. You wouldn’t have had desperation lead to the creation of a classic character like John Bradshaw Layfield. The dice would never have been rolled on somebody like Sheamus. Heck, we don’t even know if WWE’s top dogs like John Cena, Edge and Randy Orton would have been able to succeed as they have before the brand extension. And you think we’ve seen Cena vs Orton too many times already? Imagine if they were both on two shows a week!
The Draft has also proven a viable way of making stars. Traditionally, you’ll see guys who might not have gotten the time and attention to succeed on the star-crowded landscape of Raw go to SmackDown and flourish; I honestly doubt C.M. Punk would be the main event caliber guy he is today had he not moved to Fridays back in 2009, getting away from the Cenas and Ortons and getting to steal the show with Jeff Hardy for a summer. On the flipside, being put under the bright lights of Raw sometimes brings out the best in guys eager to prove they belong, with current WWE Champion The Miz—who had gone as far as he could on ECW when he got shipped to Raw—being the best example of this. You could further argue that John Cena stepped up huge when he went to Raw in 2005 and that while Edge was already a former champ when he headed to SmackDown in 2007, he became far more dominant there.
Of course, sometimes it doesn’t work. Going to Raw in 2009 more or less stopped MVP’s ascent to stardom dead in its tracks. Any momentum Kofi Kingston had at this time last year had dissipated after spending the last 12 months spinning his wheels on SmackDown. Rey Mysterio was a bust on Raw. Triple H never seemed at home on SmackDown.
We shall see what hits and misses this year’s Draft produces, but here are my picks for moves that could work nicely…
RAW TO SMACKDOWN
From what I’ve read, the consensus seems to be that this will be the big pick of this year’s Draft, with Orton being sent to SmackDown to shore up its star power and become the new top good guy with Edge’s departure. It makes sense as Orton is certainly a big enough deal to carry the brand and he’s only ever going to be Randy Savage to John Cena’s Hulk Hogan over on Raw, despite being arguably more popular. I’d be mildly concerned that Orton lost a step when he last appeared on the show back in 2005-2006, but he’s a far more mature and professional performer these days and I think he’ll be up to the task of helming his own show.
In his year and a half on Raw, Sheamus has accomplished pretty much everything he could hope to, and it feels like he’s run out of things to do there, so a move to SmackDown would freshen things up for him. Also, despite a relatively short WWE career, he’s a two-time WWE Champion who has feuded with top stars from John Cena to Triple H and proven himself on their level; he brings another credible A-list talent to SmackDown. Lastly, they seem to like shifting the titles around now and again, and with Sheamus being the current U.S. Champion, I believe he’ll swap places with a fellow champ (more on that later).
Assuming WWE still had a fraction of the faith they have in Bryan they had late last year, it would make sense for them to give him a run on Fridays and see what he can do with it much as guys like C.M. Punk, John Morrison, Kofi Kingston and Cody Rhodes have been afforded the opportunity in the past. SmackDown has traditionally been seen as more of the pure wrestling brand versus the entertainment-heavy Raw, so Bryan fits the bill; it’s all about whether WWE wants to give him the shot or are content with him as the guy who makes other guys look good.
After a terrible solo run on Raw during what was supposed to be his breakout year, DiBiase desperately needs a change of scenery of he has any hopes of rebooting his career and making something happen. Since he’s a second generation competitor with such a widely-respected father, I think he’ll get the chance, and hopefully he can do as well as his old Legacy buddy Choy Rhodes has.
They always throw in a Diva swap, and moving Melina to SmackDown makes sense on a few levels. First off, Layla seems set to turn babyface and break up Lay-Cool, which means the show is going to need a new female heel so Michelle McCool doesn’t have to go it completely alone. Second, but perhaps more importantly, from a cold business approach, Melina is supposedly killing the rising star of her boyfriend John Morrison, who has all the tools to be a main event guy on Raw if he can clean up his act backstage; separating the two of them may be a bit cruel, but it would also probably be in WWE’s best interests.
SMACKDOWN TO RAW
I was going to go with the obvious Big Show pick here, as he seems to get swapped between brands every year, but Kane actually isn’t that far behind him in that regard. Joking aside, Raw will need a babyface to fill Orton’s spot and somebody to provide a feud for The Miz aside from Cena and Morrison, so Kane fits the bill. Show seems to have finally found his niche in his current SmackDown role, but Kane has become a weird presence on Friday nights; his babyface turn after months as a sadistic villain came out of left field and it’s odd to have him on the same show as The Undertaker after their bitter feud, so best to get him away from all of that and over to Monday where he can be a solid role player.
The other half of the title switcheroo I discussed when talking about Sheamus, I’d say the Intercontinental Champion heads to Raw. Corre simply hasn’t worked and will be broken up one way or another within the month, so it makes sense to salvage Barrett by moving him away from the fallout and back to the show where he flourished throughout much of 2010. Barrett has a ton of potential, showed far more promise on Raw than he has on SmackDown, and really wasn’t around long enough to burn through all his potential feuds, so both he and the IC title would be welcome back on Monday nights.
A year ago he was World Champion, but Jack Swagger is arguably more on top of his game today, with his in-ring skills improving all the time and his angle with Michael Cole getting him majorly over as a heel in a way nothing else they tried seemed to do. He deserves another shot at being on Raw, but more than that, he should be moved closer to Cole regardless as he can either continue to leech off that heat as a prime bad guy, or turn babyface in a big way, providing another potential challenger for The Miz down the line.
This one is a bit of a hail mary, but Kofi showed such promise on Raw and has gone nowhere on SmackDown, so though a move back to the more crowded roster may seem counterintuitive, he’s got too much talent to waste so really I’d just keep jumping him until you find a comfortable fit. Also, I’ve said this twice already, but again, it’s another babyface challenger for Miz, and when you’ve got a strong heel champ you can never have too many to extend that reign as long as you can before pulling the trigger on the right successor.
Over on SmackDown, perhaps WWE’s best in-ring Diva is playing second fiddle to Kelly Kelly and will soon be third on the babyface totem pole below Layla as well. Beth belongs on the prime show where she can feud with the likes of Eve and the Bellas until the dream match between her and Awesome Kong can go down.
-They’re going to be tempted to move Cody Rhodes to Raw, but they need to fight that urge; he’s growing into a star at the perfect rate on SmackDown, and he belongs on Fridays until he’s completed the transformation.
-I wouldn’t be shocked to see R-Truth head back to SmackDown as it would seem the better testing ground for his new heel act, but I figure they’ll feud him with John Morrison first, so he probably stays put.
-For a bit I had Drew McIntyre in Swagger’s spot before ultimately going that direction, but I still think he could rise to the occasion if moved to Raw and actually make a decent babyface if they wanted to go that route; ditto Justin Gabriel.
-Conventional wisdom may say that Sin Cara should be moved to SmackDown because it’s taped after blown spots in his first couple matches on Raw, but I think keeping him and Rey Mysterio on separate brands until they’re ready to do something worthwhile with them remains the smart move.